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New Politicians’ Use of Twitter Can Increase Fundraising, Attract New Donors

In the last decade, most electoral campaigns have turned to social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to reach voters. A new study sought to determine whether using these platforms alters aspects of political competition or electoral politics. The study found that new politicians’ use of Twitter can boost fundraising and attract new donors.

The study, by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), and the University of Pennsylvania, appears in Management Science.

“Overall, social media can intensify electoral competition by reducing barriers for new politicians to raise money,” says Ananya Sen, assistant professor of information technology and management at CMU’s Heinz College, who coauthored the study.

In the United States, most political campaigns engage in sophisticated marketing, with an increasing number of politicians using social media to reach their constituencies. Incumbent U.S. politicians hold significant financial and informational advantages (e.g., staff and committee positions to raise campaign funds, more media coverage) over newcomers. The study sought to determine whether using Twitter mitigated the advantage of incumbency by giving new politicians access to technology that is relatively cost effective to communicate with potential constituents.

The study documented changes in the amount of campaign contributions received by politicians running for Congress who used Twitter. It combined data on 1,834 politicians listed with the Federal Election Commission who opened a personal Twitter account between 2009 and 2014, campaign contributions received, expenditures incurred by the candidates, and Twitter’s penetration in each politician’s region, which the researchers used as a proxy for users’ exposure to information disseminated from Twitter relative to other information (e.g., direct mail, advertising, media). They then compared weekly donations received just before and immediately after a politician opened a Twitter account in regions with high and low levels of Twitter penetration. In doing so, they controlled for such factors as how long the politician had been campaigning, whether he or she had previously held office, and how much money he or she spent in political advertising on other platforms.

The study found that right after a candidate started to tweet, weekly aggregate donations rose, more so in states where Twitter penetration was high. Focusing on donations below $1,000 (since smaller donors are more likely to respond to information disseminated via social media), the study found that the differential increase in donations between high- and low-Twitter penetration states ranged from 2.9% in 2009 to 22.8% in 2014. However, this gain was significant only for new politicians (i.e., those never before elected to Congress), not for experienced candidates.

“These findings imply that social media can promote political competition by lowering costs of disseminating information for new candidates to their constituents and thus may reduce the barriers to entering politics,” explains Maria Petrova, research professor at UPF, who led the study.

The research was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, Jean Jacques Laffont Digital Chair, Wharton Dean’s Research Fund, and the Mack Institute.


Summarized from an article in Management Science, Social Media and Political Contributions: The Impact of New Technology on Political Competition by Petrova, M (Universitat Pompeu Fabra), Sen, A (Carnegie Mellon University), and Yildirim, P (University of Pennsylvania). Copyright 2020. All rights reserved.

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The Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy is home to two internationally recognized graduate-level institutions at Carnegie Mellon University: the School of Information Systems and Management and the School of Public Policy and Management. This unique colocation combined with its expertise in analytics set Heinz College apart in the areas of cybersecurity, health care, the future of work, smart cities, and arts & entertainment. In 2016, INFORMS named Heinz College the #1 academic program for Analytics Education. For more information, please visit